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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Billion Dollar Babies

Battle Axe: Complete Edition

Review by Gary Hill

Long ago Alice Cooper was a band. The lead singer, Vincent Furnier took the name Alice Cooper as his own, but the first few albums were recorded by the band Alice Cooper. After years of nearly non-stop touring and recording, the band took a break, but the singer wound up going off as a solo artist in the process, leaving the band without their identity.  Billion Dollar Babies was formed by three of the original band members (Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith) who were joined by Bob Dolin and Mike Marconi. A combination of bad timing, bad management and more resulted in the album going largely unnoticed, and the band broke up after only playing four shows.

This new set includes that first album as the first CD of three. The second includes a number of demo recordings. Some of those wound up on the album in finished versions and some did not. The final disc is a bootleg recording of their first show. I should mention that that third one was released on a disc by itself, and I reviewed that one. For the sake of consistency the track reviews of that disc are taken from that review, but one was augmented for use here.

So, what about that studio album? I owned it at one time on vinyl. I remember being unimpressed with it. Listening now, I can see why to some degree, but I really missed a lot of nuance. Obviously the first side of the album was a bit lackluster and generic. The second side, though, was sublime. It makes the whole thing worthwhile. Not that the first side is bad. It's definitely. It's just less than unique glam rock. I'm glad this set gave me a chance to rediscover this lost gem. It's strong, and the whole set complements it well.

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Track by Track Review
CD 1: Battle Axe
Too Young

I dig the guitar riffing that opens this tune quite a bit. The arrangement is solid, and the song has some cool hooks. It's perhaps more like Mott the Hoople than Alice Cooper, but there are some twists and turns that are decidedly tied to the more famous act. The almost psychedelic drop back is cool.

Shine Your Love
That Mott the Hoople comparison is appropriate here, too. I can also hear some Sweet in the mix. This is a very pop rock oriented piece. In a fair world, this should have been a hit single. It's that strong. It doesn't sound like Alice Cooper, but it's a great song.
I Miss You
The guitar riffing on this is so strong. I love the instrumental interplay. The whole tune just works so well. It has some great hooks and just rocks really well.
Wasn't I The One
A balladic tune, this is very much a pop rock piece, perhaps with an emphasis on the rock side of things. Interestingly, I can hear this as an influence on the balladic side of Guns N' Roses, although they may have never heard it. Even the guitar solo makes me think of Slash.
Love is Rather Blind
Now, here we're back into the glam rock zones. This has some classy riffing and great keyboard overtones that lend drama. It's a strong tune that really holds up well. The chorus is catchy and pop rock based.
Rock 'N' Roll Radio
I dig the horn sound on this number. The cut is a lot of fun. There is a real bouncy energy. It would be pretty easy to imagine this on one of the early AC albums. The guitar sound is great, and the whole tune rocks.
Dance with Me

Driving energy and a cool rocking sound create a strong tune here. This is fairly fierce, and feels a lot like something Sweet might have done. Yet, it's still really easy to imagine what this would have sounded like if it was done by Cooper.

Rock Me Slowly
Piano and bass work together to create the dramatic and balladic introduction to this piece. The vocals come in over that backdrop. The number powers up to a rather symphonic level. It is a powerful ballad that really is the definition of "power ballad." It seems to reach upward to soaring heights as it continues.
Ego Mania
This is a powerhouse instrumental jam that features some smoking hot guitar soloing. The track really rocks. This gets so intense and powerful as the various parts coalesce and the cut screams toward its ending. This is a standout track.
Battle Axe
Keyboards bring the title track into being and hold it for a time. That introductory section drops away and intricate picked guitar comes up. The vocals come in with a weird processed effect that lends drama and mystery. There are guitar riffs that punctuate the lines. This song is so potent. It really feels like an Alice Cooper epic in so many ways. It makes sense that this is the title track because it's one of the real highlights here. This is dynamic, and both guitar and keyboards get the chance to show off a bit.
(Sudden Death)
This short instrumental piece is a keyboard fanfare.
This pounds in with a seriously heavy jam. It works through a number of changes, turning almost proggy in terms of the dynamic range and some of the movements. There is a fast paced, crazed jam built around keyboards that really does fit in that genre title. That gives way to anthemic arena rock. As the vocals join Mott the Hoople is again a valid comparison. It's appropriately another winner.
CD 2: Battle Axe Demos
Shine Your Love

The guitar riff on this version of the song calls to mind AC/DC a bit. The song has a less produced arrangement that makes it a bit more hard rocking. This works pretty well in this format.

Miss You
I dig the cool distant feeling of this version. I might actually prefer this to the final version on the album. It's definitely a little rawer, and that suits it well.
Wasn't I The One
This is more of a piano based pop song in this format than it was in the final form. It's a solid ballad, but I prefer the more developed version that made it to the album. This does get into some solid mainstream rock zones later, though.
Dance with Me
The Sweet reference points are really heard as this track starts. The cut has a great energy and groove and gives real competition to the final cut. This is just a lot of fun.
Want to Go Home
There is almost a James Bond theme song vibe to the powerful opening keyboard part on this. The song grows into a classy and dramatic rocker. This is as strong as anything on the first side of the original album. This is also a cut that really sounds like Alice Cooper. It has a powerful tone to it and a nice dynamic range between mellower and more rocking zones. While a lot of it has that trippy kind of mellower drama, it breaks into some smoking hot jamming at times, too. There is a real epic quality to this tune. The keyboards that started it return at the end to take it out, creating a great bookend effect to the piece.
Love is Rather Blind
The opening on this version has a real Sweet sound, but it shifts to more stripped back hard rock from there.
Rock Me Slowly
While this version also starts with keyboards and bass, it's a bit more in your face and less sublime on this take. The cut has an almost Beatles-like vibe with more killer guitar work on the solo section as presented here. 
Battle Axe / Sudden Death / Winner
I dig the opening keyboard section on this version of this song quite a bit. The track is perhaps a bit less ethereal as it grows, but it's every bit as epic and dramatic. In a lot of ways this feels even more Alice Cooper like in this recording and format. It's still an amazing display. Having all three songs worked together as one piece seems to suit it well, and there are some real differences between this version and the one on the final album. This gets a lot proggier for sure.
Rock 'N' Roll Prison
This is a classy blues rocker that works really well. I think this is probably as strong as some of the other music on the final album, but it's not really so strong that I'd consider swapping it for one of the other tunes. Still, this is classy stuff.
Runaway Inst.
This tune is okay, but not all that special. It's a pretty standard rocker. I can see why it didn't make it to the album.
I Don't Know Babe
The recording quality on this number isn't great, but the tune is pretty cool. It has almost a Grateful Dead meets Pink Floyd feeling to me.
Wallow Through This Madness
This is a classy tune that leans on the mellower side at the start but still manages to rock out later. I dig the piano work on the early parts of the tune. This is as solid a song as anything that made the first side of the actual album.
Only One Will Walk Away

There is a bit of a dramatic build at the start of this. As it works out from there it really does feel like something that would have fit on one of the early Alice Cooper albums. It's a solid instrumental, but gets a bit tedious. I think it probably was intended to eventually have vocals that would lend more interest to the piece.

High Heels Hollywood
A mainstream hard rocker, this has some definite glam rock in place. It's not a bad song, but not on the level of the stuff that made the album proper.
CD 3: Live - First Ever Show, Flint, MI, USA, 1977
I Miss You

Guitar leads this off here, and it builds upward from there. This rocker really does feel a lot like Alice Cooper.

Rock 'N' Roll Radio
Another cool riff driven rocker, this has some good hooks and really rocks. This was a single and has a real single vibe to it.
Love Is Rather Blind
A bit meaner, there is a bit of a punky edge to this stomper.
Rock Me Slowly
Starting as a piano based ballad, this gets into more guitar rocking territory later. This has "hit record" written all over it. It's a great tune.
Alice Cooper Medley: No More Mr. Nice Guy/Elected/School's Out
This smoking hot Cooper medley works really well. It should be noted that on the CD devoted to this show (which I previously reviewed) this is listed on the track list as "Alice Cooper Medley: No More Mr. Nice Guy/Neal Smith Solo/Elected/Eighteen/School's Out." That's the complete list of songs here, and a better title.
Battle Axe Suite: Ego Mania
There is some smoking hot guitar work on this killer cut. This instrumental really does feel like it could have come from the original era of Alice Cooper.
Battle Axe
A dramatic keyboard section opens this cut in a very progressive rock like mode. As the track starts to build out from there it still feels quite proggy. It definitely has elements of the theatric side of Alice Cooper. Yet, in so many ways this is a killer progressive cut, even as it powers upward to the more guitar driven stuff. This track is the real highlight of the set as far as I'm concerned.
Nights in Cracked Leather/Sudden Death/Winner
This opens with a dramatic symphonic fanfare that leans back to the olden days of heraldry. Audience chatter gets in the way of this a bit. After the four minute mark it shifts to a cool progressive rock styled arrangement to continue. Some of the keyboard based stuff as this continues makes me think of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It is pure progressive rock really and quite bombastic. It's after the nine-minute mark before the first vocals of the track enter. It's still very much a prog rocking kind of jam.
Too Young

This is a straight-ahead glam rocker. It's solid, but a bit average after the last couple pieces. It does sound like old school Cooper, though.

Billion Dollar Babies
The song from which this band took it's name, they deliver a screaming hot live telling. This is crazed Cooper music of the hard rocking variety at its best. It always was a scorcher, and this live version upholds that tradition.


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